Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, & Real Moviemaking Oh My!

By Scott Spangler on February 22nd, 2021

Devotion-1Nothing ruins the enjoyment of a good aviation film more thoroughly than computer-generated images. Real moviemaking, filming real airplanes is what makes movies like “12 O’Clock High” and “Top Gun” so memorable. That’s why I’m eagerly awaiting “Top Gun: Maverick” and a new film that aims at the advanced, HD technology used in Top Gun 2 on F4U Corsairs and an F8F Bearcat in the Korean War story of Jesse Brown and his wingman, Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Hudner.

The film is based on Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, written by Adam Makos (and I’ve just ordered a copy). Ensign Jesse Brown was the Navy’s first African-American fighter pilot, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Thomas Hudner was his friend and section leader in Corsair-equipped Fighter Squadron (VF) 32. Over North Korea, the ground fire brought down Brown on a close-air support mission for the Marines fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir on December 4, 1950.

Jesse-LeRoy-Brown-e1612161046848With the ground fire hitting the Corsair’s oil tank, Brown made a forced landing on a snowy mountainside. Smoke wafted from the downed Corsair’s cowling and Brown waved from the cockpit but did not get out of it. Realizing the rescue helo they’d call would not arrive in time, Hudner belly-landed his Corsair near his friend and attempted to free him from the cockpit after he put out the fire with snow. Hudner could not free Brown’s legs, even with the aid of the crew of the helo when it arrived.

With the film’s production team striving to shoot as much of the film as possible “in-camera” (meaning real airplanes in flight), they turned to aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa Jr., who’s done a lot of air-to-air work in films including “Captain Marvel” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” One of those cameras will be the new 6K digital camera, the Red Komodo. The producers told LaRosa that they wanted what he delivered for Maverick, times 10.

cinejetLaRosa has compiled a fleet of 11 aircraft, Corsairs, Bearcats, Skyraiders, and MiGs, all repainted in accurate squadron colors (VF-32 Bearcats and transitioned to Corsairs for Korea). With helicopters and the CineJet, L-39 with a nose-mounted camera, they have been shooting somewhere in Washington. The aerial director of photography is Michael FitzMaurice, who also shot the air-to-air for Maverick.

All I’ve seen are the trailers to Maverick, and the best one is the extended Super Bowl version that offers a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at its aerial production. So get vaccinated so we can achieve herd immunity and return to theaters so we can finally see these films on the big screen, better yet, the overwhelming IMAX!

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